There is only one place to start really isn't there? Three words that will forever instil a warm fuzzy memory of pain, glory, tears, pain, pedalling, hills, wind, rain, pain, joy and...pain.
It goes without saying that this was the big challenge of the year, this was the focus of pretty much all our training for the first half of the year and something I had at the forefront of my mind every time I swung a leg over my bike. The day did not disappoint in any sense, we battled through everything you'd expect when taking on 138 miles of cycling across this rock we call Britain (well, England).
|James, Ste and Sean at stop 1, Consett|
4.20am - Roker View Guest House and a chorus of mobile phone alarms ring again after being snoozed for 10 minutes. Like kids at Christmas, despite our ridiculously early wake up call the excitement and anticipation of what lay ahead lifted us out of our beds and down for a quick breakfast before the obligatory tyre-dipped-in-the-sea photo.
The last of Sunderland's late night revellers were out to cheer us on (flip us the v's) as, at 5.30am, myself, my brother Ste and friend James embarked on our journey. My eldest brother Gaz - the one man support vehicle (for the first half) also set off in search of our meeting point for the first drinks stop (after a cooked breakfast).
Leg 1 went mostly quite well until the last couple of miles where I punctured for the first time and, in an attempt to wave to Gaz whilst crossing a roundabout, Ste took the first (amazingly the only) fall of the day. In true You've Been Framed style, coming to a halt without unclipping, he was thankfully able to laugh off what actually looked like a pretty painful fall. Waiting in a pub carpark at something past 7am, Gaz was waiting and like a F1 pitstop fella without the weird helmet/goggle combo, replenished our drink supply on the bikes.
Leg 2 - Consett to Alston (is a very long way)
After a quick banana/granola bar stop, we were off once again. Buoyed by successfully getting the first 25 miles under our belt and seeing Gaz, we set off with a very, very tough 30ish miles ahead of us to Alston. In hindsight (an incredibly cruel tool), Alston was a big ask to do without stopping earlier with the sheer number of uphill miles we had to do to get there and did, in the end, prove too much.
|Nature calls on the way to Alston|
Probably the steepest climb so far drags you back up into the elements after a brief respite. Here, you are faced with false summit after false summit with all the promise of some downhill as you see what must be the top, but seemingly never is. This was also the first time that we had been exposed to the crushing headwind which promised to halt any of the progress you thought you were making. My second flat of the day arrived a coupe of hundred yards from the actual top and slowed progress even more until finally reaching the top.
Having beaten me to the top, Ste had got chatting to a pair of gentlemen taking on the reverse of our ride, over 4 days (I think). Upon hearing what we were doing, a shout of "Stop you're moaning" was bellowed between the two. "He's doing it with Cystic Fibrosis, you haven't got anything to moan about". He was also kind enough to give us £10 towards our fundraising. Such a touching moment that kept us all going.
Knowing it would take a few minutes to put a new inner tube in, we gave Gaz a call to come and meet us a couple of miles earlier than planned. After the exertion of the climbing, we'd had all our drink and food we had with us. Within minutes, Gaz was there to provide much needed sustenance and we were able to finally descend towards Alston where the rest of the support crew were waiting.
Leg 3 Alston - Hartside
6 miles. 6 long miles. If you do it the right way, that is. If you you miss a turning and go 2 miles in the wrong direction, it tends to add more miles on. Which we did. It was a bad turn to miss as well, with the wrong 2 miles climbing up a 10% climb (v. steep). When we were so tantalisingly close to our lunch stop at Hartside cafe, it was tough to take when we realised when we had gone the wrong way. Error corrected, 4 extra miles under the belt and we were back chasing a bacon butty.
The last 3 miles in to Hartside were possibly the hardest 3 miles I've ever had the "pleasure" of cycling. The climbs were long and steep, the wind was very much in our face and the cafe was out of sight. Add that to the fact the local club riders were gliding past like they had a motor, it was the toughest part of the day, for me.
|Left to Right: Sean, Anna, James reaching the top of Hartside|
Leg 4 - Hartside to Keswick
With arguably the worst part of the climbing done, for the time being, we enjoyed descending for a few miles, giving our legs a rest and our brakes a work out. The following miles were not too eventful and whilst it was by no means flat, easy riding, compared to the sections before, we coped with it well. We met the support crew in Penrith and joined in the conversation with a local gentleman who seemed as though he'd spent his Saturday sampling the watering holes of Penrith. He was impressed with my "cyclists legs" and thought James had skinny legs which, on reflection, was very weird, but I'd cycled 80 miles and been awake for quite a long time so I was happy with that.
After complementing my legs, he also claimed it was flat all the way to Keswick, which is a cruel, cruel lie to tell. There wasn't anything too severe but it was not flat. At all. 20 miles separated us from our next stop and by that time, fatigue had really started to kick in. What I could have done without was cycling past two young lads who then decided they wanted a race. As they sprinted past, it took all my will power not to shout how many miles I'd done already, so instead took them on in the race and to be honest, taught them a lesson.
Leg 5 - Keswick to WHITEHAVEN (YAAASSSS)
After the last stop with our amazing support team, bottles filled and ready to go, we set off for the last 28 miles, starting with some very steep one's up and over the whinlatter pass. After circa 110 miles, this climb is a real, real challenge and once it's over, although it is by no means flat, you know that the worst is out the way so it's as much of a mental battle as it is physical. James decided at this point he would attack the climb, surprising himself (not me) at how fast he could do it. Ste rolled away from my front wheel after him and I settled in for the long haul. Ask my girlfriend Anna and she'll tell you how stubborn I am. Never has this stubborness been so beneficial as when I was crawling up Whinlatter. There was no chance I was getting off that bike unless I was at the top.
|Ready to set off from Keswick|
A surprise greeting from the crew on the way up (to make sure we didn't go the wrong way again like last time) honking the car horns, we rode on. Greeted on the other side of Whinlatter with some very cold rain, we knew the rest of the ride would be tough. And so we edged closer and closer to Whitehaven, a target that just did not seem to ever get nearer. One final puncture (for James) just 7 miles away and fingers so cold, I could not change gear, we finally arrived in the town centre. Holding back the tears, at 9:45pm we rounded the corner onto the harbour, smiles etched onto our faces, delirium setting in, we were greeted by our irrepresible support crew with champagne and balloons.
Every time we do something, I am blown away by the brilliance of everyone around me, helping make my ideas become a reality. To James and Ste, thank you for riding with me and sorry for the pain! To the supporters - Mum, Christine, Dave, Steph and Anna, you have no idea it was how amazing it was to have you there, knowing there would be encouragment and familiar faces along the way. And to Gaz, who drove with us all the way, set off at the same ridiculous time as us and did all of the running around at the stops. To all of you who donated and who sent messages throughout, it genuinely makes it all worth while. We're working towards something pretty amazing and you're all improving the lives of people like me.
THANK YOU ALL